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SBPD: More than 170 catalytic converters stolen in St. Joseph County since December

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 8:11 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - In just two months, thieves have been able to steal more than 170 catalytic converters in St. Joseph County.

“To say there has been a rash is understatement. We’ve had over 170 in the county,” South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski told reporters Wednesday afternoon during a joint press conference with local law enforcement.

Since December, police say 85 catalytic converter thefts were reported in South Bend, 46 were reported in Mishawaka, and 42 were reported within St. Joseph County jurisdiction.

According to police, thieves’ main target areas include car dealerships, businesses and homes. Specific vehicles such as: pickup trucks, boxed trucks, vans, SUVs and small buses have been among the most attractive vehicles for thieves.

“We definitely know that it’s not just one person doing it. There is numerous people doing it and our goal is to try and get them to stop,” Mishawaka Police Lt. Tim Williams says.

St. Joseph County Sheriff William Redman says the recent flood of thefts not only have left residents with hefty repair and insurance costs, but have also caused businesses to lose the ability to use their vehicle.

“Alick’s Home Medical, who was victimized as a result of this catalytic converters being stolen off of one of their vehicles, was unable to utilize their vehicle to deliver medical supplies, specifically oxygen, to COVID patients,” Redman explained.

In response, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter says local law enforcement are now turning to amend current legislation, specifically Senate Bill No. 167. As currently written, the bill penalizes those who steal or buy stolen catalytic converters with a Class A infraction, and minimal fine.

With the help from local legislators, Cotter says raising the penalty to a Level 6 felony with heavier fines will not only help deter thieves, it will help deter buyers as well by helping eliminate a market that has become too hot to handle.

“The changes in the law are not really focused on the individuals doing the stealing. The big change is on the folks who are actually the fence, the folks that are taking advantage of these individuals, who are stealing because they are buying it on the cheap and then making a lot of money because of that,” Cotter says.

Michiana Crime Stoppers Coordinator Kayla Miller says police are also counting on the community to step up and help as well. Ways residents can do that include: marking their own catalytic converters to help identify it in case it were stolen, providing information regarding suspect(s) or suspect vehicle(s), and photos or videos that could help lead to an arrest.

However, Miller says there is one thing she is asking people not to do.

“We want to make sure that you don’t engage these suspects. You don’t know how dangerous the situation can turn. There have been reports of firearms being pulled in situations. We want to ensure that you are safe. You want to be the best witness possible but also be safe about this,” Miller says.

And while amending legislation could make a big difference, Ruszkowski says change can only come if everyone is all in.

“I mean South Bend -- 102,000 people, two hundred and some thousand people in the county -- that’s a lot of set of eyes and ears right there that can be helping us out and stopping this before this happens to you next,” Ruszkowski says.

According to District 10 Senator David Niezgodski, a current amendment of Senate Bill No. 167 has been passed by the Senate and is now awaiting approval by the House. Niezgodski says local legislators are eyeing to have the bill officially amended by mid-March.

Anyone with information regarding catalytic converter thefts within St. Joseph County is asked to call local police or Michiana Crime Stoppers at 574-288-STOP.

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